A phone call that came in late January had a familiar theme, only this time it was from a grower in Arizona rather than California. The grower who farms east of Tucson requested a copy of CAFA's new, 24-page booklet, Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment. He wanted the publication to compile information that would help thwart an attempt to take water from agriculture and divert it to real estate development.

Two days later, CAFA received another request for Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment. This time, however, the phone call came from the office of a congressman who represents the 50th Congressional District in Southern California. CAFA is currently in the process of getting the booklet in the hands of policy makers and educators and it was a welcome development to receive the request from a member of congress, Bob Filner of Chula Vista.

The call from the grower in Arizona also illustrates one of the roles that the booklet is intended to fulfill in educating the public and policy makers on alfalfa's contributions to wildlife and the environment. The grower pointed out the importance of focusing on a crop's contributions to the environment in making a case for ensuring an adequate water supply. His comment was similar to that of a California grower in the Mojave Desert who contacted CAFA about a year ago to get information for the same problem.

Crop often convenient target

Unfortunately, alfalfa often becomes a convenient target when water issues arise. Average water use in California is estimated at approximately four to five acre feet per year and the crop is grown on more than one million acres. But what's usually overlooked by critics is water use efficiency. It's a relative term that refers to the quantity of water required to produce a unit of crop yield. Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment devotes three pages to “The Water Story” and the chapter includes a detailed discussion and chart on water use efficiency.

The water use efficiency chart compares several crops that are commonly grown in the Sacramento Valley. Besides alfalfa, other crops included in the evaluation are corn grown for grain, wheat, sugar beets, rice, dry beans and almonds. If applied water-use-efficiency is calculated on the basis of biomass production, or total above ground plant, alfalfa is the most efficient water user among all of the commonly grown crops.

For more information on obtaining a copy of Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment, contact CAFA at the address or phone number listed in the membership form below.